LAUSANNE • North Korea will send 22 athletes to next month's Winter Games in South Korea, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said yesterday, approving a landmark deal between two nations still officially at war.
South Korea had hoped that the Games, which begin in Pyeongchang on Feb 9, could help ease the crisis on the peninsula, which has been plagued by months of rising tensions over the North's nuclear and missile programmes.
In a surprise New Year's announcement, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to sending a delegation to Pyeongchang.
Before last week's meeting at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, the two Koreas had already agreed on a set of momentous compromises, including delegations from both countries marching together at the opening ceremony and the formation of a unified women's hockey team.
But the two Koreas still needed approval from the IOC, as the pact required the suspension of some basic Olympic rules.
IOC president Thomas Bach gave that approval yesterday, announcing that 22 athletes had been cleared to compete in three sports and a total of five disciplines.
Those include figure skating, short-track speed skating, cross-country skiing and Alpine skiing, as well as hockey, with the IOC having approved the entry of the joint team despite concerns voiced by some hockey federations over fairness.
Number of athletes North Korea will send to the Winter Games in Pyeongchang next month.
North Korean officials at the games.
At the opening ceremony, the joint delegation "will be led into the Olympic stadium by the Korean unification flag" carried together by an athlete from each country, the IOC said.
A special unity uniform will be created for the event.
No North Korean athlete had technically qualified for Pyeongchang, so yesterday's announcement required extending qualification deadlines in the sports concerned.
A NEW HOPE
The Olympic Winter Games are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.
IOC PRESIDENT THOMAS BACH
"Today marks a milestone on a long journey," Mr Bach said after the closed-door meeting with the leaders of the Olympic committees from both Koreas, as well as Pyeongchang 2018 organisers and senior government officials from the two countries.
"The Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula, and inviting the world to join in a celebration of hope," Mr Bach said.
North Korea has taken part in seven of the past 12 Winter Olympics, most recently in Vancouver in 2010. But its presence in Pyeongchang - 80km south of the demilitarised zone that divides the Koreas - is a significant diplomatic coup.
Separately, North Korea will send a delegation to South Korea today to prepare for a trip by an art troupe during next month's Olympics, pushing the visit back by a day, after earlier cancelling it, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.
North Korea sent a statement yesterday saying it would send the delegation by a land route today, and the schedule during the visit could be carried out as previously agreed, the Unification Ministry said in a statement. The South Korean government had agreed to the visit, the ministry said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS